Too bad every teacher in the rich hemisphere can’t hustle the class off to Africa for a semester on wheels.
It takes an unusual teacher to lead students on trips that extend for a semester in places on the fringe of the average college attendee’s comfort zone.
The author is that exceptional type, an English professor specializing in African studies and African literature at Doane College in Nebraska. She leads small groups of college students on enriching study tours through southern and eastern Africa. Betty Levitov skillfully shares the experiences gleaned during several teaching tours in Africa focused on cross-cultural communication and experiences. The narrative usually unfolds in the present tense giving immediacy and connection to the characters.
The Africa Semester sounds like a great idea and Dr. Levitov’s lighthearted motherly presentation should put at ease the parents or guardians of prospective exchange students. Even if the students aren’t headed for Africa, this book offers travelers handy advice for how to get along in challenging circumstances and how to interact with people from other cultural and economic backgrounds.
Ariel Glucklich‘s stories lead one into the next, step by step. Like climbing a hill, the dance of life and human thoughts, there’s a path to the light through the dark, on and on around the great metaphorical wheel. In this particular story, P. L. Shivaram, retired librarian for the Karnataka Power Thermal Corporation Ltd., leads the reluctant pilgrim, a biologist recovering from a long illness, up Chamundi Hill. The librarian nudges, explains and entertains during the long climb. The American pilgrim listens and comes to terms with various types of pain in his life. The hill serves as symbol and fact: representative of life’s path and a real homage site that people climb barefoot to honor the deities. Each twist of the route upwards offers the storyteller another opening to tell a Hindu parable. The pilgrim spills his share of stories too, balancing the librarian’s narrative of mythology with obtainable lessons gleaned from the shocks of an examined life. This charmed book could be Aesop’s fables – Indian style — with a week of dandy bedtime stories for grownups.
HarperCollins, 2003, ISBN 0-06-050894-9, Cloth bound, 246 pages
A slightly different version of this review appeared in The Bloomsbury Review, Celebrating and Serving Literature since 1980.
What fun to find, by chance, that the Gastronomica Reader published in 2010 and edited by Darra Goldstein, which includes my long article about Diana Kennedy and Mexican organic farming is included in a biblio encyclopedia run by an Estonian webarian!
Fun because this connects directly to last week’s Wikimania 2012 in Washington, DC where I met the wikipedian from Estonia, Raul Veede.
Synchronicity and random serendipity are the indicators I follow in order to avoid the contrived pressures of marketing, crowd control, issues management, individual greed and social aggression. Long live the randomness of the internet and the global volunteer efforts of wiki writers everywhere who are the activist-intellectual descendants of Thomas Paine.
Ray Bradbury lived a long and creative life. He died last week which sent me to my copy of Zen in the Art of Writing, Essays on Creativity, his 1990 book on the writing process. Bradbury celebrates life and the mystery of imagination in these essays, as he did in public — at readings, lectures and impromptu autographing events.
His essays remind writers to relax and follow the fantastic notions that stalk our logic and reason. In the urgent elaborations and emotional intensity that awaken our minds, we do our best writing. Or maybe it’s sheer surprise at creativity from the unknown dimension that captures our energy. Sometimes it is pure luck and having enough time to get the words down before a writer’s attention wanes. Bradbury’s Zen message to writers: Just write and the rest will unfold. Thank you, Ray Bradbury, for opening your prescient imagination to us.
I opened the collection randomly, trusting serendipity and found this passage in the essay about Dandelion Wine:
Here is my celebration, then of death as well as life, dark as well as light, old as well as young, smart and dumb combined, sheer joy as well as complete terror written by a boy who once hung upside down in trees, dressed in his bat costume with candy fangs in his mouth, who finally fell out of the trees when he was twelve and went and found a toy-dial typewriter and wrote his first “novel.” (page 86)
Jennifer Monahan has written an engaging account of an extended trip around Australia.
Subtitled “Discovering the Island Continent of Australia” the book offers practical advice for first time travelers in Australia. From my own experience in Australia, I agree with Jennifer Monahan that you need more than the typical two weeks for a journey Down Under.
Yes, the flight from nearly everywhere else, except New Zealand or Indonesia, is monumental . Distance is tyranny in Australia — everything is a long way, even when it’s just over there.
I asked the author about her favorite aspect of Australia. She responded:
“When I talk about my two months in Australia, I’m often asked, “What did you like most about Australia?”
and my first response is always “The people.” Aussies are the friendliest, most laid back, seriously happy people I have
ever come across. Maybe it has something to do with living on a continent filled with sunshine and surrounded by gorgeous beaches. I also believe it has a lot to do with the nation’s philosophy to give everyone “A fair go,” which means “Treat everyone fairly and give everyone a fair chance (to do their best).”
Prepare to be entertained as you join Jennifer and her companion during this adventure through Oz. You’ll learn practical details and how to plan a successful trip. She started out with a cross-continental train journey and rounded back by driving to the Queensland coast to explore the Great Barrier Reef and Magnetic Island. Along the way, they encounter singular characters, surprises and good luck, along with the usual challenges of adventure travel. All the experiences reported in the book are instructive for other travelers.
Not ready for the big trip to Oz? Reading this book will take you there vicariously. Enjoy the ride!